Ever since journalist and screenwriter Harriet Quimby became the first American woman licensed as a pilot in 1911, many women have been breaking barriers to find their place in the sky.
Bessie Coleman would move to France and become the first person of African American and Native American descent to hold a pilot's license on June 15, 1921. The 19th amendment was ratified on August 18, 1920, granting women the right to vote.
Born September 8, 1902, Ruth Elder was determined to become the female Charles Lindbergh, and the first woman to cross the Atlantic. She and George Haldeman made an attempt to cross the Atlantic together in a yellow Stinson Detroiter named The American Girl. The Detroiter was a single-engine, high-wing monoplane. She held pilot license number 675 and persuaded a group of businessmen to sponsor her.
They flew somewhere between 2,574 and 2,625 miles across the Atlantic in stormy weather in 28-36 hours with Ruth at the controls for about nine hours. After fighting the winds and rain, The American Girl developed an oil leak forcing them into an emergency water landing. The pair managed to locate a Dutch oil tanker, named the Barendrecht, before splashing down and were rescued from the wings of the plane before it caught fire and sank.
Amelia Earhart would go on to become both the first woman to fly across the Atlantic as a passenger in 1928 and the first woman—and first person since Lindbergh—to complete a solo transatlantic crossing in 1932.
Ruth Elder toured the country on the vaudeville circuit and starred in two aviation-themed feature films, Moran of the Marines (1928) and The Winged Horseman (1929), both of which are now lost.
The first transcontinental women's air race, the Women's Air Derby took place on August 18, 1929. In a nine-day race, broken into nine segment traveling from Santa Monica to Cleveland, she and 20 other women took part. Louise Thaden won the race, she placed fifth.
On August 5, 1943 the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) was established during World War II. The WASP pilot training program graduated 1,074 graduates who ferried over 50% of the combat aircraft within the United States during the war years. They flew at 126 bases across the U.S., where they also towed targets for gunnery training and served as instrument instructors for the Eastern Flying Training Command. Thirty-eight of these women died in their service, 11 in training and 27 during missions.
Ruth Elder died October 9, 1977 at home in San Francisco, CA. She was a charter member of The Ninety-Nines.
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